Communication Skills

Learning Package 1

Introduction

The Communication Skills learning package is for learning parents wishing to enrich their knowledge and skills on effective communication. Through this package, parents will be able to identify signs of ineffective communication and get some tips on how to improve communication between family members. In addition, they will learn how to address ‘sensitive topics’ and improve verbal and non-verbal communication with their children.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge

After going through the learning package, parents will be able to:

  • Describe the concept of communication and effective communication;
  • List the tips and strategies for effective communication with their children and teenagers;
  • Put in practice their effective communication skills with their children and teenagers to address sensitive topics in everyday family life.

Skills

After the learning package, the parent should be able to:

  • Identify ineffective or aggressive communication and prevent it;
  • Improve their communication skills and in that way positively influence their teenager’s communication skills;
  • Build healthy communication channels with their children and teenagers;
  • Understand and have a clear picture of what their children want and need.

Scene Setter

Communication is a process through which meanings are created in all human relationships.[1] It is the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviours to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, or feelings.[2] We are all communicators and the way we communicate can have an influence on our relationships, including within our family.  The parent-child relationship plays a critical role in a child’s development.

We communicate with other people daily for many reasons. Children begin communicating from the moment they are born, letting their mother know they arrived with their first cry. “When kids have dependable, reliable, consistent and stable relationships with their parents, they have a secure base from which they can explore and experience their world, leading to healthy growth and development”.[3]

Infants communicate by making noises and babbling.  Communication is a key life skill that we practice since the first day of our lives without our acknowledgment.  

Source: Photo by William Fortunato from Pexels

There are several types of communication that can be used to convey ideas, emotions and have conversations. Not all types of communication are accessible to everyone, so the way we communicate is based on our preference.

Verbal: it is defined in this package as oral communication. It is when you transmit your message through spoken words. You give words to your feeling, opinion and express them.  This is used in oral conversations.

Non-verbal communication:  it is all the information that you transmit through other ways than with words. For example your gestures, body language, facial expressions.

Written communication: is a form of verbal communication, it is the information that you write down in words. This is not the focus of this learning package but some of the tips included below can be applied to written conversation.   

Many times, we can trace back family relationship challenges to communication problems, either the lack of it, or ineffective communication. Parents may feel like their children do not listen to a word they say, while children feel like their parents do not understand them or never take the time to listen. When this happens, instead of working harder to communicate, parents and children often stop communicating entirely, leading to anger, sadness and other challenging emotions. With this learning package, we try to give parents ways to improve their communication skills which will help them to show their children how to be effective communicators using their verbal and non-verbal skills! All the tips included in this learning package apply to all genders and families and are introduced as a suggestion for effective communication. There is no wrong or right in parenting!

[1] Communication in Healthy Parenting: The Interplay of Positive Parenting Strategies and Parents’ Communication Styles By Amarachi Ijeoma Dooshima Simon, Submitted: June 16th 2021Reviewed: October 1st 2021 Published: November 7th 2021  https://www.intechopen.com/online-first/79257 
[2] Definition of communication https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/communication 
[3] Lovable Preschool Valentine’s Ideas: Join in the Festivities
https://kids.lovetoknow.com/child-behavior-development-parenting/parent-child-relationship-problems 

Concrete Applications

Effective communication is the basis for a healthy relationship of parents with their children. It is important for parents to take time to build up effective communication skills through activities because this:

  • Builds a healthy relationship of high quality
  • Helps to build the children’s self-esteem as they feel important or valued;
  • Provides a sense of safety and security;
  • Helps the children develop communication skills and gain emotional intelligence.

Even when parents lose their patience and get angry, they still can communicate respectfully. Without blaming or shaming your child you can integrate them in the conversation and in finding the solution. You will find more tips about how to communicate with your children in challenging situations in the EMPOWERMENT, MEDIATION, and PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGES.

It is important to note that parents are communicating differently with infants, children and teenagers. What is common ground for all ages are the 8 fundamentals of communication as defined according to Stanfield 2017. [4]

Empathy for listening and respect

Empathetic communication is all about listening with your full attention to understand another person’s feelings and perspective. When you make someone feel seen, heard and respected, an emotional connection form.

Pausing to improve listening

Allowing brief silences during communication invites the other party to pause and take in the message and stay engaged with the speaker. Pausing also signals to the other party that a new thought or idea is coming and allows them time to ready themselves to receive it and gives clarity to the conversation.

Introspection to improve self-understanding

The phrase ‘I need to think about that’ describes what is called introspection. Introspection is when you think about your emotions, motivations, thoughts, and behaviours. It is a great way to develop awareness of yourself, what is your motivation and how you perceive the world around you.

Turn-taking to improve self-regulation skills

The participants to the conversation are encouraged to propose possible solutions and then choose one that is mutually acceptable and attainable, thus focusing attention on the future and the realisation of both parties’ goals.

Established procedures to include non-verbal communication

– Simplify and stay on message.

– Engage your listeners or readers.

– Take time to respond.

– Make sure you are understood.

– Listen actively.

– Integrate body language.

– Maintain eye contact.

– Respect your audience.

Conversation skills for productive dialogue

– Conversation is a two-way street.

– Be friendly and polite.

– Respond to what they are saying.

– Use signalling to help the other person.

– Create emotional connections.

Respectful Vocabulary to avoid heated conversations

Respectful language improves communication in many ways by preventing misunderstandings and conflicts. It is an essential part of the act of listening carefully and responding kindly to others, even if we disagree with them.

Practise in natural settings to raise confidence for different situations

“Practice makes perfect” as some may say. The more you =practise your communication skills the more comfortable you feel to address and respond to different dialogues, situations and conversations.

 

[4]Definitions adapted from: https://cloviscenter.libguides.com/Communication/VerbalVSNonverbal

Active listening is the ability to perceive exactly what the other person is going through and to offer them feedback on what we have noticed. To perceive means to repeat what we have heard, to explain what we have understood, and to check how much it coincides with what the person wants to tell and explain to us. This allows us to try to truly understand the other person, in this case our child, but also sends the very important message that we are trying to understand what it is like to be in their shoes and come up with the best solution together.

Listening

–   Do not interrupt or jump to conclusions!

–   Use verbal confirmation such as: “Yes, I understand”
–   Focus on what the other person is currently saying, not on what they have said or will say!

Paraphrasing
–    Say in your own words what you understood and check if that is what the other person meant: “Your friend laughed at you, it sounds to me like it made you sad, did I get that right?”

Empathy
–    Use mirroring, like: “You sound very upset”

Ask questions
–     “What happened next?”, “What would you like to do?”

Key tips for parents to improve effective communication with children [5]

  • Give your full attention.
  • Encourage your child to talk about their feelings, perspective and thoughts.
  • Listen and respond to both good and bad news.
  • Set aside time for talking with your children.
  • Avoid any distractions (avoid using your phone when talking with your children).
  • Talk about everyday things.
  • Be open about all kinds of feelings (anger, joy, anxiety…).
  • Involve your child in conversations and ask for their opinion.
  • Be willing to stop what you are doing to listen to your child. Sometimes, you cannot predict when your child will start talking about something important.
[5] Communicating well with babies and children: tips
https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/connecting-communicating/communicating/communicating-well-with-children

Effective communication with teenagers

  • Let your teenager finish their thoughts, and practise active listening: listen in a non-judgmental way and try to understand their point, rephrase what they are saying to show you are listening.
  • Don’t hesitate to take a break if things get heated. As a parent it is normal not to always be in control of your emotions.
  • Be genuinely interested in your teenager’s life and ask questions occasionally.
  • Do not shy away from sensitive topics such as sexual orientation, relationships – intimate conversations like this show vulnerability and build trust.
  • Use “Door Openers”

Encourages your interlocutor to talk openly.

“Tell me what happened.” “What do you think is the right thing to do?” “How do you feel about that?” “What happened next?” “That’s a good question.”

Rather Than “Door Closers”

Leads your interlocutor to close up.

“I don’t want to hear that kind of talk.” “So what?” “I’ll tell you what you ought to do…” “Why are you asking me?” “Don’t come crying to me if you end up in a mess.”

Key tips for parents [6]

  • Try to be sensitive to children’s desire to communicate when they are ready.
  • Maintain an openness that encourages children’s attempts to communicate.
  • Listen to and accept children’s feelings.
  • Offer children honest explanations and being truthful.
  • Answer questions in simple language appropriate for their age.
  • Try to find brief, simple, and age-appropriate answers to children’s questions; understandable answers which do not overwhelm them with too many words.
  • Perhaps most difficult of all, examine your own feelings and beliefs to talk to your children naturally when opportunities arise.
[6] Talking to kids about sensivite topics https://www.mbfpreventioneducation.org/sensitive-topics/

Non-Verbal Communication with your Teenagers 

  • Even if they are growing up and becoming independent young adults, they still need affection. Even if this is the case it is also good to teach children through our behaviour that they can put boundaries.
  • Do things together: Do activities together that you both like without necessarily talking about something personal for example watch movies together
 

Helping young children to recognise and express their emotions [7]

Emotions can be hard to communicate and to recognise even for adults! However, it is important to learn how to recognize and express different emotions from an early age and this is a tool for life.  You can have a designated area for children to express these feelings, in which a printout of an emotions chart is on display, like on the example. This activity is particularly adapted to younger children.  

Practising description skills.

Guess the Object: This is a fun game for children to practise their communication skills. Cut a hole in a box that is large enough for their hands. Make sure that they understand that they are not allowed to peak into the hole. Place an object in the box. Have the child describe what the object feels like and let them guess what it is. You can see an example in the video below!

Under the Sea | What’s in the Box | HiHo Kids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjHTlRAA39g

 
[7] Communicating well with babies and children: tips
https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/connecting-communicating/communicating/communicating-well-with-children

Source : Stock Image Families

InSign Advancing inclusive education through International Sign, EU project: https://www.uni-siegen.de/zew/insign/insign/index.html.en?lang=en

  • International Sign language, European union of the Deaf:https://www.eud.eu/
  • Makaton sign language is a sign language used with nonverbal individuals along with speaking. Makaton uses signs and symbols and is easily adapted to different needs and communication levels. This sign language can be used with Pre-Verbal or Non-verbal Children [8]
    •  
[8] Tips for Communicating With Your Nonverbal Child https://www.verywellfamily.com/communicating-with-a-nonverbal-child-4177579

“This is what I do for a living, and I still struggle to have these kinds of conversations with my own child”[9] says Nadine Thornhill, a Toronto-based sex educator and mum to an 11-year-old. There are topics that we rather avoid because they are making us uncomfortable. However, it does not mean that these topics are not important nor that they should be treated as taboo. Communication is also about talking about these topics. If parents can talk about these topics, then you can talk about anything with you children!

Being genuine, truthful and straightforward to your children makes them feel that they can get answers just by talking to you. You may not have all the answers but by showing that you are listening, you open the conversation channel. Integrating sensitive topics within the family builds strong communication channels and enhances your family relationships.

Source: Photo Ron Lach by Pexels.

The most important thing to understand when addressing sensitive topics within the family is that it does not have to be a one-time event. There is no “right” age to talk to your children about periods, sex, sexual orientation, divorce, adoption, death or any other sensitive topic-they are all part of life. Integrating such discussions can start as early as the toddler years! When and how you approach the conversation will depend on your child’s age, maturity level, and interests. The best approach is as an ongoing conversation. Also, as a parent you should recognise you are not the expert, but you can still help: if your child has a question you cannot answer, you can ask for advice and information from other people who can help you (other parents, your child’s paediatrician, teachers, therapist, etc.)

Addressing any sensitive subject is a delicate balance that encourages children to communicate, a balance between avoidance and confrontation. This balance can be challenging to achieve. The following tips can help, and you will also find useful resources in the EMPOWERMENT SKILLS LEARNING PACKAGE:

[9] How to talk to your kids about sex: An age-by-age guide
https://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/age-by-age-guide-to-talking-to-kids-about-sex/

Non-verbal communication with children

Non-verbal communication[10] is about conveying your message through gestures, postures, signals, or clues. People give and receive countless non-verbal clues every day. Non-verbal communication is most of the time used at the same time as verbal communication.  It is therefore important to be mindful of your non-verbal communication. It can improve your relationships within the family. It is also very helpful (and sometimes essential) when communicating with pre-verbal and non-verbal children. As oral communication, non- verbal communication is important for your children and an important skill to boost as a family as it helps to better relate, understand and ultimately get along with other people! The right non-verbal communication can reinforce what is said. For example, smiling when you say ‘Good morning’ sends the message that you’re happy to see your child. But if your nonverbal communication does not match your words, your child might focus on the nonverbal communication.

Source: Canva free pictures


Non-verbal communication and children with additional needs

Children with additional needs can face barriers in communication, verbal or non-verbal.  Some children also have sensory sensitivities and might find body contact like hugging difficult. These children might be more comfortable with other expressions of warmth or approval. There is no general rule, think about the sort of non-verbal communication that your child likes best!

[10] Nonverbal communication: body language and tone of voice
https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/connecting-communicating/communicating/nonverbal-communication

You can understand a lot more when observing the body language of your child. If you concentrate on the body language of your child, you may be able to understand what they are trying to say! For example, be attentive to little signs such as eye contact. Eye contact between people having a conversation is usual in communication, if your child is avoiding eye contact there might be something underneath- or they are just busy with their toys!

But your body language is as important, maintaining eye contact can be a way to show interest to what the other persons says. You can use all the tools that body language offers to show that you are interested in what your child is trying to share with you. Turning your face towards them, nodding, smiling and looking at them. Also try to use positive facial expressions as they can reinforce your message and also affect how your children respond to a message.

The tone of your voice is also conveying a message, and if it does not match the words you are saying it can get confusing for your child. We often tend to pay more attention to the words we are saying than to how we are saying them, however both verbal and non-verbal conversation are important and as parents if you want to communicate effectively with your children you should be mindful of both!

Source: Photo by Kamaji Ogino from Pexels


Sign Language

Sign language is mostly use in the deaf community, although not all deaf persons use and understand sign language! Although there is an international sign language, each country has its own, the variety is immense similar to verbal language! Even if your child or you do not have a hearing impairment, using sign language can come in handy.

Pre-Verbal children: They are usually younger children – from the ages of 2 to 4. They understand communication and can communicate intentionally but do not necessarily use words to communicate yet.

Non-verbal children: This term refers to children (usually up to age 10) that do not use speech as a way of communication or have emerging or delayed verbal skills – either short-term or long-term.

Below you can see other activities that can easily be integrated into everyday family moments. These activities are suggestions to improve non-verbal communication between family members and especially the children. You can adapt the activities to the sensory preferences of your children.

  • Watch a TV show with the sound off. See whether you and your child can work out what is happening
  • Do activities together: Go for a walk, enjoy an ice cream, go to a workshop together, play sports, sing, dance, or play with dolls. All these activities can be fun ways to practice non-verbal communication with your child.
  • The Disney movie Inside Out can help children understand and talk about feelings and how we express them without words. You could watch it as a family and then talk about it afterwards

Inside Out: Guessing the feelings, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOkyKyVFnSs

Self-Assessment

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Communication Skills - Self Assessment

Quiz to test learning outcomes of the package.

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Which are the three main forms of communication

2 / 5

Communication is a key life skill

3 / 5

It is better to use “door closers” to achieve effective communication

4 / 5

To achieve better communication between family members, it is important to incorporate sensitive topics in everyday family life

5 / 5

Which of the following is an act of non-verbal communication?

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